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The Optimism Bias: A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain Hardcover – June 14, 2011

4.0 out of 5 stars 67 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"What a treat.  A charming, engaging and accessible book written by a scientist who knows how to tell a story." - Richard Thaler, author of Nudge

"Very enjoyable, highly original and packed with eye-opening insight, this is a beautifully written book that really brings psychology alive." – Simon Baron-Cohen, author of The Science of Evil

"With rare talent Sharot takes us on an unforgettable tour of the hopes, traps and tricks of our brains…cutting-edge…a must-read.” –David Eagleman, author of Sum and Incognito

“If you read her story, you'll get a better grip on how we function in it. I'm optimistic about that.” –Richard Stengel, Time

“Lively, conversational…A well-told, heartening report from neuroscience’s front lines.” –Kirkus

“Insightful, Oliver Sacks–y first book.” –Village Voice (Summer Book Picks)

“Most readers will turn to the last page not only buoyed by hope but also aware of the sources and benefits of that hope.” –Booklist  

“Fascinating.” –Insane Science, NPR

A book I’d suggest to anyone.. offers evolutionary, neurological, and even slightly philosophical reasons for optimism” –Forbes 
“An intelligently written look into why most people take an optimistic view of life… fascinating trip into why we prefer to remain hopeful about our future and ourselves.” –New York Journal of Books
“Fascinating book offers compelling evidence for the neural basis of optimism and what it all means.” –Scientific American Book club

“Once I started reading The Optimism Bias, I could not put it down.”. –Positive Psychology News Daily
“A fascinating yet accessible exploration of how and why our brains construct a positive outlook on life.” –Brain Pickings (7 Essential Books on Optimism)

“Engaging…There are many absorbing stories and facts in this concise and well-written book…you will find yourself reflecting on its contents long after you’ve read the final page.” –makewavesnotnoise.com

About the Author

Tali Sharot’s research on optimism, memory, and emotion has been the subject of features in Newsweek, The Boston Globe, Time, The Wall Street Journal, New Scientist, and The Washington Post, as well as on the BBC. She has a Ph.D. in psychology and neuroscience from New York University and is currently a research fellow at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at University College London. She lives in London.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon (June 14, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307378489
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307378484
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (67 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #722,669 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Aceto TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 1, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Cognitive science or psychology and neuroscience really began in earnest in the 1950's. Artificial intelligence was an early throw-off of this work. Sixty years later, the discipline and sub-disciplines have come into their own. Much of the formative work for the next half-century will come from the tremendous advances underway. Here is a book that will bring you "up close and personal" into this world. Personal meaning involving you yourself.

Tali Sharot, a cognitive neuroscientist by trade, was studying the effects of trauma on memory. Her first pronouncement is that exceptionally emotional events cause us to believe that we have flawlessly accurate recollections of them -- "flash-bulb" memories as they are termed; and they are largely a sham we foist on ourselves.

The Optimism Bias is not a self-help book. It is not "The Power of Positive Thinking". It is not Sun Zu goes to Wall Street, and not pop-psychology. It is a non-technical survey of current concepts in neuroscience. Dr. Sharot does not dumb it down, rather she seats the concepts with everyday examples to give us a solid understanding of how our neural system manifests itself in our everyday thoughts and behavior. People with a scientific/medical/technical background may miss the lack of complete technical discussion. I might have taken one star if I were concerned with only their perspective. But not two stars since the tour and terminology are still solid science that I found informative and helpful. For the general intelligent reading public, I stick with five.

This book will give you knowledge of yourself and those around you to the point of actually using this information to improve your life.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This book was like a college lecture that starts out with an exciting premise and a great first 15 minutes, but pretty soon starts to get drawn out and tiring. Tali Sharot starts the book by explaining the fascinating Optimism Bias, how the human brain seems wired into optimism. She gives countless examples of how even when presented with what should be a boring proposition like "describe a haircut", people will turn it into, "I have grown my hair for weeks so I can donate it to Locks of Love." It's just our nature.

She proceeds to discuss mental time travel and whether animals can think of a past and a future. Much of the discussion is related to how optimism developped in our brains and reasons why. As the book went on, I found myself starting to skim. It was an involuntary action, but I just could not stay with the author in her writing. Another reviewer said it felt like an article blown up to book length, and I would agree. I feel she has some great points to be made in this book, but the treatment is too long and short on solid information for the length of the book.

Worth reading or skimming once for a few key pieces of information, but I likely won't return to it.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Nothing in life is as important as when we think about it. This great aphorism is a summary on what is called the `focusing illusion'.
The book gives us many more of those. It is an easy read, a popular essay on questions of psychology, involving philosophy and evolution. I like its way of giving names, like this focusing illusion, or `defensive pessimism' (holding low expectations will protect us from disappointment --- alas, not true), or the title story: `optimism bias', a cognitive malfunction.

The optimism bias stands guard. It is in charge of keeping us healthy. Where would homsap be if we would live according to our deeper insight of futility? Optimism counteracts knowledge of death. Schopenhauer and his ilk are the enemies of mankind's future. Evolution can't handle the depressed other than by sorting them out. Depression is the inability to construct a future. Religion's place in the overall scheme of evolution is reserved in the VIP sector. Optimists live longer!

Homo sapiens' outstanding skill, compared to other species, is mental time travel, the ability to remember and to look and think ahead and make plans for contingencies. Sharot tells us that the ability to do these mental travels is located in specific brain regions. It has been observed, she says, that special brain regions in London taxi drivers shrink when they retire and don't need to keep their navigational knowledge up to speed any more. Makes me wonder if it is safe to start forgetting all the football results that I remember?
Much of the argument in the book is based on practical research, such as using brain images. Luckily I gather that the time has not yet come where a brain scanner can read your thoughts accurately.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
People always seem to expect the best, despite the odds. As Tali Sharot discusses in THE OPTIMISM BIAS, most people have unrealistically positive expectations of their future. She does a great job of summing up much of the current neuroscientific research-including her own work-on the subject of optimism, and has a life-affirming conclusion: even though we might be irrationally positive, for the most part that's a good thing, as optimists tend to face adversity better than pessimists.

While there is a great deal of good material in the book, there is also a lot of what feels like padding. In the first chapter, there's several pages of "intro to perception" material-including a "thatcherized" photo of a young girl that had me desperately wishing for some brain bleach-that feels like could have been summed up much more quickly.

In general, the feeling I got was that there was enough here for a great article or two, but not quite enough to justify its inflation to book length.

In addition, some of the references to current events don't seem particularly apt. Early on, Sharot enthuses that some believe optimism might be a curiously American invention, "a by-product of Barack Obama's imagination." Huh? Before 2008 no one in America was optimistic? She hinges an entire chapter on "when private optimism meets public despair" on just how incredibly awesome the president is; his election apparently set an unprecedented wave of optimism sweeping over the nation despite dire economic circumstances. It gets scary when she compares listening to an Obama speech to holding a baby, patting a dog, or having sex, telling us that hearing him speak triggers a feeling called "elevation" that erases cynicism and generates hope.
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